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Ancestry Is Using AI To Help Users Discover The Names And Lives Of Their Ancestors Who Were Formerly Enslaved

Ancestry Is Using AI To Help Users Discover The Names And Lives Of Their Ancestors Who Were Formerly Enslaved

Ancestry.com has been helping families trace their roots for nearly three decades. Now, the genealogy company is using technology to further assist Black Americans in discovering their ancestry.

On June 11, 2024, Ancestry announced the publication of a free collection of 38,000 newspaper articles related to more than 183,000 enslaved people in the U.S. from 1788 to 1867, according to a press release. Ancestry’s mission in launching the new newspaper article collection is to help descendants expand their family history research and discover connections.

“Greater access to these records on Ancestry will enhance understanding of how chattel slavery and the forced movement of enslaved people became normalized in the United States,” said Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, assistant professor of Africana studies at Morehouse College, per the press release. “This collection is invaluable for providing descendants of enslaved individuals with insights into their ancestral histories and their forebears’ acts of resistance and resilience, despite the Emancipation Proclamation being largely ignored by enslavers, newspaper publishers, and lawmakers.”

Axios reports that Ancestry is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help users search newspaper records for the names of those in their families who were formerly enslaved.

“By piecing together individual stories, researchers can construct a more detailed picture of the lived experiences of Black Americans, enriching our collective understanding of history,” Sims-Alvarado said, per the press release.

Ancestry’s newspaper collection can help families overcome the challenge of researching their family history amid the lack of documentation about those who were enslaved, according to Nicka Sewell-Smith, a senior story producer and genealogist at Ancestry. “Exploring the articles in the context of their original publication can help us understand more about how slavery shaped everyday life in the United States and can help descendants of previously enslaved people unearth key discoveries about their family history,” Sewell-Smith said in the release.

Axios notes that the online newspaper collection database includes individual names, ages, physical descriptions, and locations. In addition, there are “sensitive materials related to the buying and selling of enslaved people and ads seeking the return of those who escaped.”

Within the 38,000 newspaper articles, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana are among the states that have the largest collections of records, per Axios.



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